A quick note before the main newsletter: my availability for in-person keynotes is filling up this year— be sure to reach out if you have an event coming up and want to reserve! Virtual keynotes and executive education are available as always.
This morning I put on my boots and walked down to the boulangerie. I ordered a croissant, trois petites for my son’s French lesson over lunch, and a torte grain baguette. I ordered a gateau for Saturday for my husband’s birthday. And had the conversation in French- not flawlessly, but understandably.
Pain du Sport— one of our favorites from either bakery
Living in France— in Europe— has always been a dream of ours, and this year we decided to make it a family adventure. Because my husband and I are both remote workers, which is to say we can technically work anywhere, it was a possibility. We also have two kids, ages 10 and 13—that made things more complicated.
Our family blog talks a bit about how it came to be— thanks in large part to support of friends in the village where we’re living this year. That made it possible to arrive, have our bank account and lease set, and the kids in the local schools (this was slightly more challenging than expected for the elder child).
We are living for the year in a lovely French village on a plateau above Grenoble, surrounded by starkly beautiful limestone cliffs. It is complete with all of the mountain sports you might hope for. Unlike Chamonix or Morzine, mostly international communities (and still gorgeous!), this village is mostly French. We arrived and worked to settle in with our two duffel bags each in an old house with peach colored walls and no insulation. This- this is living the dream!
When you jump into something about which you’ve dreamed, there is a moment of impossibility, a cognitive challenge to accept the opportunity you’ve seized, a realization that you really don’t know what it is that you’re doing, and hence, what it is that you’ve truly dreamed about. There’s an element of this in getting married, in having kids, or even a puppy.
The realities of this move to France are adventurous and wonderful and full of pastries— and incredible frustration and challenge all around. Many people we had talked to said that the kids just pick up language— it just comes— amazing! By Christmas, surely. As of the middle of December, it’s clear such predictions are overstated.
It’s hard to make friends if you can’t talk with them, for kids and adults. As adults, we have perspective on that, at least, but kids easily feel left out and ostracized. This adventure is tough for the kids, trying to speak in a new language where they know they are going to make mistakes. By tough, I mean it’s incredibly difficult, at or beyond tolerance for one or both kids not only a few days in a given week. They are trying. They are learning. This is building grit and resilience and a deeper understanding of other cultures in another part of the world.
But if kids are having trouble, it’s hard on parents too, and it’s hard on the family. What do you do when it’s hard? Take one positive step.
In December, when the boys went out to ski on a Sunday (I’ve hurt my knee so am off the trails for a bit), I bundled up against the cold and headed to the market where J’s class was selling Christmas ornaments to support the school. Here was something I could do; show up at the place I was expected to be and do the thing I was expected to do.
I smiled at one of the mom’s working behind the stall, her coat pulled up around her neck, a white pom pom on her hat. She offered a friendly smile. I asked in my best French if these were the ornaments made by CM1 (the name of J’s class). She looked back at me and just smiled. She couldn’t understand a word. I tried again, and then again, to no avail. I made a generous donation, and took a few ornaments. Feeling completely frustrated and idiotic, I headed on two another stall where less French was required.
This was such a small and isolated experience, but on top of so many other failed interactions and the challenges my kids are having, I felt like collapsing. Like packing up and coming home. Nobody would blame us. They’d say we gave it a good go. And six months overseas? That’s a terrific run!
But leaving because it’s hard is not the plan. This adventure is difficult and it’s wonderful, and we are learning and growing as individuals and as a family. It’s an experience none of us will ever forget— and will become something we weave into our lives and find ways to continue— but I’m months and months ahead of myself.
Measuring growth in language facility is incredibly difficult; but then mid-week, after my gaffe on the weekend, I picked out a Tunisian lunch from a market booth mid-week and had a nice conversation with the proprietor. We continue with our lessons, all of us. I had lunch with new girlfriends this week (who speak English). And we’ve sorted out playdates for the kids, and even managed birthday parties. I do a little on language study every day— I know consistency is key— and most days I’m not aware of making any progress at all.
For growth to happen in any area, consistent applied effort is critical. Even and especially when you can’t feel any progress.
Last night on a phone call with a colleague that ran until 10:30 PM (the other part of living here is working off hours), she shook her head and smiled and said: “You’re living the dream! I always wished we’d done that, but we couldn’t ever make it happen.”
It IS living the dream, but that hasn’t made it easy. Living your dreams isn’t easy. Nothing worthwhile is. One area of my personal purpose —as well as our family purpose (at which I arrived through the process I use in Paths 2 Purpose), is learning, lifelong learning, and living abroad certainly qualifies (more on this below). There’s the connection to purpose. It turns out that doesn’t always work in the moment.
Making change, and opting for growth, does not come without challenge, and challenge is uncomfortable, and even painful. Anyone who has made a pivot in their life knows this. If you’re considering a pivot— or working through challenges in a job, or have just taken a new position— you know this.
We are grateful for the opportunity. Having bakeries within a five minute walk, and beautiful mountains all around, helps a lot. Connections with wonderful people is a gift, more than we could ever have hoped. Learning a new language and a new culture— priceless. No regrets. Even professional opportunities, unexpected and welcome, come from this new experience. And yet.
The other night when our youngest was cycling down on how hard school was for him, I pulled up Duke University women’s basketball coach Cara Lawson’s talk on “Handle Hard better.” It’s just fabulous. Life isn’t easy, she reminds us, and it isn’t going to GET easier, just because the summer came around or you passed a test. but you’re going to get better- better at doing hard things. You’re going to be able to handle hard better.
That wasn’t the end of it. French l’ecoles are not nearly as gentle as elementary schools in the states are (in our experience). Teachers aren’t there to be “nice.” He’s refused to go to school one day since then, and we’ve had a meeting with the director, an important lesson in articulating his concerns. It’s a learning experience, to be sure.
Learning that life is not easy, that there are things we must bear, is part of growing up. It’s part of all of our lives.
That’s the mindset for growth and resilience, the mindset that allows for adventure, and for failing, and for continuing on even when it feels lonely, or impossible, or not all that much fun. That’s the mindset that allows, ultimately, for living the dream, whatever your dream might be.
Two new weekly series for the winter at The Grit Institute: tune in!